Managing a Cribber (from AAEP Ask the Vet)

Recently I purchased a 4 YO gelding that had been stall kept. Much to my surprise, he is a cribber. He takes his feed bucket between his front teeth, arches his neck and sucks in air. He is underweight and I feed him grain everyday and he has hay at will 24/7. His appetite is good. Any suggestions? DW

Dear DW,

Cribbing is a tough issue because there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what causes it or how to curb it. I consulted the sixth revised edition of Nutrient Requirements for Horses by the NRC for the most up-to-date information and here’s what I found:

• Cribbing is a stable vice or stereotypie, which is defined as “apparently functionless, repetitive behavior.” Other stereotypies include weaving and stall-walking.
• Many of the interventions once used to arrest stereotypic behavior, such as punishment or physical prevention, have been recognized to be mostly ineffective and potentially detrimental to the horse’s welfare, especially if no attempt has been made to resolve the instigating cause.
• Cribbing and other stereotypies may have breed, function, environmental, feed management, age or disease conditions associated with them
• One study concluded that housing method, whether pasture, box stall or tie stall had little effect on eliciting abnormal behaviors, but that the form of the diet clearly affected behavior.
• Approximately 10% of preweaning foals and 20% of postweaning foals crib and wood chew, leading investigators suggest that creep feeding concentrate to hungry foals may cause stomach problems that lead to these abnormal behaviors.
• Cribbing and wood chewing have been associated with a lack of fiber or roughage.
• Cribbing horses have been shown to have a lower stomach pH, which may be due to too little fiber, too much concentrate and reduced saliva production.
• Feeding too little hay, feeding hay rather than pasture and feeding only one type of forage have all been shown to induce or increase the risk cribbing and wood chewing.
• One study showed all horses, whether prone to stereotypic behavior or not, showed more abnormal behaviors as feeding frequencies of grain increased from two to four to six times per day.
• It has been suggested that cribbing may have a neurochemical origin in addition to the predisposition that may arise through nutritional management.

How can you put all of this (somewhat contradictory) information to use: Although the editors of Nutrient Requirements for Horses fully admit there is little research to support them, these recommendations were listed: avoid creep feeding preweaning, minimize concentrates, supplement with antacid, maintain horses on pasture, increase the hay ration, feed the affected horse before the other horses, reduce the time the horse spends in the stable, increase the horse’s exercise, increase the horse’s social contact, and use a stable chain instead of a solid door so the horse has a varied view from its stall.

In your case, I specifically recommend turning your horse out on pasture to graze (preferably with a buddy or two), reducing the amount of grain you feed him and supplementing with fat and possibly other weight gain products, such as amino acids. You may also want to vary his forage by providing alfalfa or other type of hay. I hope some of these suggestions help!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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7 comments on “Managing a Cribber (from AAEP Ask the Vet)
  1. Wendy Smith says:

    I have a thoroughbred mare 18 yrs and she came to me with a cribbing strap to prevent her from windsucking which sounds like what your horse is doing more than the actual “cribbing” or chewing wood. She will not do this in her paddock if there is nothing for her to place her teeth on and pull. She is put out all day with out her collar in a wood plank paddock with electrical fencing. She will not touch either for fear of being shocked (even though the electric fence is not on)this she does not know.If I place her in her stall with out hay, after a few minutes she will start to wind suck if her collar is not on. She was on the track (before I got her) and left in her stall all day and I believe she started this aweful habit out of boredom and lack of hay. I feel better that she gets the collar off over 8 hours a day and only wears it when she is in her stall or a paddock with trees. This has helped her be more relaxed and she has gianed weight (1134) last time she was weighed. Good luck maybe this helped

  2. Judi Patterson says:

    We have a cribbing (Wind Sucking) 6 year old gelding.He was put next to an older horse that wind sucked for his recovery from gelding surgery. NEVER thinking that he would ever Wind Suck!! We tried everything: miracle collar, other cribbing collars…had to be on sooo tight it was unreasonable. With another type he would wear holes in his neck. I am happy to report that putting him on SparkPak Digest has helped with the frequency of cribbing. Also having him on SmartCalm has made an impact. He can sometimes have an upset stomach, mild colic. We use the Probios paste and that relieves the colic. Pretty Cool huh? Hopefully in the future he will crib less and less.

  3. Jen Devillez says:

    I have a 19 year old QH that I have owned for the last 11 years, and purchased him w/the knowledge that he was a windsucker. Tried all kinds of cribbing collars and had to keep them all way to tight for my taste. When I bought him he instantly became an outside horse and the windsucking stopped. When you put him in a stall though, he would windsuck on anything that he could get his teeth on, and I mean anything. Now, he is out 24/7 year round, has a run in shed (which I had to de-windsuck) free choice hay, has a buddy, and is in a pasture where the fence line is not visibile and he can’t reach. I do have to keep an eye out, and sometimes have to cut down a tree branch or make them non-accessible to crib on. he is a competitive barrel horse and when we travel away from home and he stays in a stall, I have to put a wire mask on this halter which works great. He still have access to hay & water w/the mask on. I just put it on after he eats his grain. If I were to not put the mask on when in the stall, he would just windsuck and hay would still be there the next morning. I probably would not purchase a windsucker in the future, but his I can deal with because he is very competitive and this outweighs the problems w/windsucking. When I first purchased him, he had an impaction which he recovered from with no problems and because of the windsucking damage done prior to me purchasing him, he eventually broke off his 2 front top teeth at the gum line. With all of these issues, he is still a very healthy, happy and sound horse and believe it or not, a very easy keeper. It is actually very tough to get weight off of him even during competition season. Sorry so long, but hopefully some of this helps, good luck.

  4. Kate says:

    I have a 4 year old paint mare that I have had since she was a 2 year old. She came to me with no vices, and after our second competitive show season, she came home and started cribbing in her stall. I have read places that cribbing is not a learned habit, but I can’t figure out what could of caused it. It was discovered that she had gastric ulcers and so we out her on NeighLox but after about 2 weeks she started cribbing again. Right now she has limited turn out and wears a cribbing collar 24/7. I have tried everything and what works best for her is heavy excersize and hay 24/7, because when she has hay in her stall she doe not crib at all.
    Thanks!

  5. Nicole says:

    Although all of those things make sense, our cribbing gelding lived in a pasture with ample grass and other horses and cribbed on their run-in shelther anyway. After an episode of founder, we were forced to deny him any access to grass and set up our barn so that he had free run of it and later added access to a dirt paddock. After being seperated into this environment he quit cribbing entirely! It makes no sense to us, since we have always heard everything written in the article. But, it just shows there is so much more to learn still.

  6. Julia says:

    I have an 8 year old Arabian gelding that has cribbed ever since I’ve had him for 3 years. The previous owners say it started when he was in training for working cow. He spent an entire year of his life in a stall with no turn out, poor nutrition, and unpleasant human interaction.

    My vet’s senior thesis was on cribbing which concluded the only method to stop it was using a cribbing collar. I use a cribbing collar and a hay bag to provide mental stimulation when he’s stalled, which is only for feeding and when it rains. He’s gained weight nicely as a result. Also, I feed him triple crown senior which has rice bran, beet pulp, and live cultures for digestion.

  7. Alexandra says:

    My old trainer told me that cribbing was the horse burping to relieve indigestion. That’s why digestive supplements help.
    My friend sold her horse because he was cribbing and chewing up fences, refusing jumps, and would act girthy. He would hate people coming in his personal space and touching his barrel. She ended up selling him and he passed away from a parasitic infection. The vet said he cribbed because of the digestive upset.

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